DeBerry Comes Up Huge In Tourney Win Over Purdue

On Friday morning I asked Coreontae DeBerry to draw an outline of his hand on a piece of paper.  Here’s a photo of my normal-sized hand in front of Cory’s outline.

DeBerry hand

“I didn’t know that he had bigger hands than Dr. J until I shook his hand for the first time and said, ‘Oh my goodness,’” said head coach Mick Cronin.  “It’s unbelievable.”

“He has the biggest hands in the world,” said Farad Cobb.

Fittingly, the man with mammoth mitts earned a big hand from Bearcats fans in Thursday’s 66-65 overtime win over Purdue.

DeBerry vs Purdue (293x440)

When Octavius Ellis was ejected early in the second half for committing a flagrant foul, Cincinnati needed DeBerry to stay on the floor for the rest of the game to defend Purdue’s 7-footers A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas. The 6’9”, 275 pound junior played all but 50 seconds of the final 21:22 (including overtime).

“After we told Octavius, ‘Don’t worry about (getting ejected),’ we turned to Cory and said, ‘Time to step up.  We need some big minutes from you and you’re ready for it,’” said Cobb.

DeBerry played a season-high 26 minutes which was five more minutes than his previous three games combined.

“I was really, really tired but I knew that my team needed me the most when Octavius got thrown out of the game,” said DeBerry.

“I told him that he could worry about being tired after the game,” said Shaq Thomas.

DeBerry didn’t only protect the paint on defense.  He scored a career-high 13 points including a balletic reverse layup with 3:08 left in overtime that gave Cincinnati the lead for good.

“The last time I hit that shot was in high school,” said DeBerry.  “When I got the ball I just looked to score.  I saw an open spot and I went to it.”

“That was sick,” said Cobb.  “I was like, ‘That’s got to be a Top 10 highlight to see a big dude do a move like that.’  I was hyped.”

“He looked like a point guard,” said Jermaine Sanders.  “He looked like he was about 6 feet tall, 180 pounds the way he was moving.”

DeBerry’s performance was undoubtedly a shock for Purdue, but Cincinnati’s players and coaches claim that they weren’t surprised.

“I knew that it was going to come out sooner or later because I practice against him every day,” said Ellis.  “That’s why it was very exciting to see him play like that last night.”

“I knew he had it in him,” said Cronin.  “It’s our job to get it out of him.  That’s what they pay us for.  With all due respect to my buddy Doug Kecman who is out there coaching the Seven Hills girls’ team, he’s an amateur and we’re professionals. We’re well-paid and we have to get it out of him.

“Probably the biggest thing I remember Coach Pitino saying all the time is that you never lament about your players – your job is to find a way to get it out of them.  Cory’s got it in him.  We just have to keep finding a way to get it out of him.”

On Saturday, DeBerry, Ellis, and Gary Clark will have to contend with the biggest team in college basketball.  Kentucky has three starters that are 6’10” or taller and brings a 7-footer off of the bench.

“They need to protect the paint and make them shoot tough shots,” said Cobb.  “And then as a team, we all need to get in there and help them get rebounds.”

“Everybody in this locker room is going to have to rebound,” said Thomas.  “We can’t just rely on Cory, Octavius, and Gary to get rebounds; it’s going to have to come from the guards too.”

“We’re a tough team and we don’t back down to anyone,” said DeBerry.  “We’re just going to go out there and give it our best effort.”

Coreontae has rarely been accused of not giving a full effort.  In fact, in middle school when he couldn’t find a baseball mitt to fit his already-giant hand, he volunteered to play the outfield without a glove.

“I said, ‘I’m just going to go barehanded,’” said DeBerry.  “The teacher said, ‘Are you sure?  It’s going to hurt.’  I said, ‘I’m fine.’ I caught three fly balls in the outfield.  It worked out fine.”

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After Bailing Out His Coach, Gantz Seeks Perfection

Perhaps the most exciting moment in Cincinnati’s 2014 football season was the 47-yard game-winning field goal by redshirt freshman Andrew Gantz to beat ECU under frigid weather conditions.

“Just being able to share that moment with my parents will probably be one of the best memories of my entire life,” Gantz told me after a spring football practice last week.  “You don’t really get many opportunities like that and to have a game-winner my freshman year was a pretty big moment in my life so far.  It’s an indescribable feeling.”

Head coach Tommy Tuberville has no trouble describing how he felt at the time.

Cincinnati had a five point lead with 2:03 left in the game when Tuberville elected to go for a first down on fourth-and-2 from the Bearcats’ 33-yard line.  An option pitch lost six yards and ECU scored a go-ahead touchdown with 1:02 remaining.  Fortunately for Cincinnati, Gantz answered with his clutch field goal with 15 seconds on the clock.

“I made an idiotic call to go for it on fourth down,” said Tuberville with a laugh.  “And then there was the bad play call by (offensive coordinator) Eddie Gran to run the speed option.  Even my son Tucker called me from Auburn and said, ‘Dad, that was the worst decision I’ve ever seen.’  I said, ‘I agree.’  But Andrew dug me out of a hole where I didn’t have to spend about three weeks apologizing.”

The field goal was the longest that Gantz made as a freshman.

“I wasn’t as worried about the kick as I was the snap and the hold in 15 degree weather,” said Tuberville.  “And we absolutely blew the protection on the right side. We let a guy come so free that he out-ran the ball and we kicked it over his head.  It was meant to be.”

Gantz FG

The Centerville H.S. grad won the kicking job last year after a nip-and-tuck training camp battle with senior Tony Miliano and went on to have a great first season, making 16 of 20 field goals and earning second-team All-American Athletic Conference honors.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that I had a great season – I had a good season,” said Gantz.  “Honestly, I wasn’t that happy with how I finished.  I think I missed four field goals and I’d like to have a few of those back.  It’s really a job meant for a perfectionist, so it kind of drives me insane to miss like that.”

“He takes it a little bit too tough on the sideline,” said Tuberville.  “I remember after he missed about a 45-yarder at Connecticut, I went over there and he had his head in his hands.  I had to kick him in the tail to get him off the bench.  You’re not going to make it every time, but it’s good to have somebody who takes it personally and seriously.  He works very hard to try to eliminate mistakes.”

“I hate missing a field goal more than I like making one, if that makes any sense,” said Gantz.

“His goal is to have no misses,” said new special teams coordinator Ty Linder.  “He’s a kid that really wants to be great.  He’s got a strong leg, he’s very consistent, and he puts in the work.  I’m excited to work with him.”

One of Andrew’s off-season goals is to increase his range for the upcoming season.

“He’s been killing it in the weight room trying to get bigger and stronger,” said Linder.

“I weighed around 150 pounds my freshman year and last summer I only gained three to five pounds,” Gantz told me.  “But right now I’m pushing between 172 and 175.  I’ve really put in a lot of work this offseason trying to eat right and get in the weight room to get bigger.  When I was a freshman, coach was hesitant to let me kick those long field goals, but I’ve pushed my range out to about 65 yards now.  If he sees me hit those, I think we’ll have a better chance of kicking those long field goals during a game.”

Andrew says his longest field goal in practice is 67 yards – or 20 yards longer than the game-winner that saved Tuberville from having to agonize over a costly gamble.

“I don’t think I really bailed him out – I did my job,” said Gantz. “If that play had worked out it would have been a great coaching decision.  But I think we’re both pretty happy with how it worked out.”

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Davis Deserves Credit For Bearcats’ Success

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the job that Larry Davis has done as Cincinnati’s acting head coach is to turn the clock back 20 years.

Larry Davis on sideline

In 1995, Duke’s roster included two future first round draft picks in Cherokee Parks and Trajan Langdon and the Blue Devils got off a 9-3 start.  But on January 23rd, Mike Krzyzewski announced that he would miss the rest of the season due to severe back pain.  Duke went 4-15 under Coach K’s replacement Pete Gaudet.

When Mick Cronin was sidelined due to a non-life threatening vascular condition on the morning of the VCU game, it looked like the Bearcats might suffer a similar fate.  That day they were routed at home by the Rams 68-47.

“That was a tough day for everybody,” said Davis.  “It was like you were in a fog.  It was surreal.  It was like, ‘Did this really just happen?’”

Two weeks later, Coach Cronin announced that he would continue to lead the program in a general manager’s role but would not take part in on-court activities for the rest of the season leaving his top assistant in charge.

“He’s given me a good life for the last nine years here,” said Davis.  “I texted him and said, ‘I won’t let you down.’  I want to do well for the kids, and selfishly for myself, but most of all I don’t want to let that guy down.  He’s been great to me, and he deserves to have all of us give our very best effort to keep this program rolling until he gets back.  I do feel a great sense of wanting to do it for Mick.”

Mission accomplished.

Davis is 15-7 since Coach Cronin was sidelined, and has put the Bearcats in position to return to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight season.

“I think the mark of a really good coach is when you can take a game that is not going your way and make the right adjustments to win a game that you were not going to win,” said Coach Cronin.  “And on a bigger scale, when the season is not going your way to be able to make the necessary changes to right the ship.  He’s done a tremendous job of that and he’s had to do it multiple times.

“He had to take a team that lost its coach and make sure there was no panic at first.  And then, once you get into the season you’re going to have the normal ups and downs that everybody has.  And he’s done a great job of navigating that along with the rest of the staff.”

Davis has been helped by Cronin’s continued presence around the team.

“Coach Cronin still being around is big,” said freshman Gary Clark.  “I never thought, ‘Oh crap, the season is going to go down the drain.’”

“Coach Cronin has done a great job of being the leader and having the staff follow his lead,” said sophomore Troy Caupain.  “The assistants are basically like mini-Cronins when it comes to making decisions and I think that’s helped us a lot.”

Davis was the head coach at Furman for nine years before coming to Cincinnati, and Cronin had confidence that he could prevent the team from collapsing.

“Larry has tremendous toughness,” said Cronin.  “That’s why I have so much respect for him and that’s why I tried to hire him as soon as I could when I got the job at Cincinnati.  I knew how hard rebuilding the program was going to be and I needed a guy who could be in a foxhole with me.  Trust me, in college basketball there is no more of a ‘foxhole’ guy than Larry Davis.”

Davis and Cronin

Their initial season together tested Larry’s toughness.

“The first year was just crazy – I don’t think people really have a true appreciation for what we walked into,” said Davis.  “We were wiped out.  We didn’t have anybody and had to spend every minute just getting eight guys to be able to practice every day much less win.  There was so much pressure day after day after day after day.  You didn’t get any sleep and were constantly worried and I was exhausted.

“I woke up one day after the season and I literally could barely move.”

Davis had mononucleosis.  As an assistant at Delaware in the 1980’s, Davis was involved in a serious car accident that knocked out two teeth and required more than 60 stitches.  He missed one day of work.  This time his recovery would take much longer.

“My doctor said, ‘You can either listen to me and go home and get in bed and plan on being there for the next two to three weeks, or you can fight it and end up in the hospital for a month,’” said Davis.  “I went from 185 pounds to 155 and thank goodness the boss I work for understood because I was out for almost three months.”

That’s roughly the amount of time that Cronin will miss this season and the Bearcats haven’t missed a beat.

“I couldn’t be happier for our program, our kids, and Coach Cronin that we’ve been able to maintain what he worked so hard to build,” said Davis.  “Throughout all the ups and downs this year, the one thing he kept emphasizing was, ‘No matter what, we can’t lose our culture.’  Our culture is toughness, work hard, practice hard, defend, and rebound.  I think we’ve been able to maintain the culture and that means we can continue forward when Mick comes back.  That part of it is very satisfying.”

“It’s almost the same as if Coach Cronin were here,” said Clark.  “The ‘Bearcat Way’ is to play hard – they basically built the program from nothing by getting guys to play hard.”

On Thursday, Larry Davis was not named the American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year – that honor went to Temple’s Fran Dunphy.  But considering the difficult circumstances he inherited, it’s hard to imagine any coach in the country doing a better job than Davis.

Just ask Duke fans that remember 1995.

“I’d be less than truthful if I said that it hadn’t been very stressful,” said Davis.  “But I’ve worked my whole life to be in position to be with a great program like Cincinnati and this year I’ve had the privilege to move one seat over.”

“He deserves a tremendous amount of praise for the job he has done,” said Cronin.

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RIP Tex Simone

When I learned that my former boss Anthony “Tex” Simone passed away on Friday morning, I was reminded of a great scene from the TV show Mad Men.

After an elderly secretary died, one of the advertising firm’s head honchos gave her the following eulogy:

“She was born in 1898 in a barn. She died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She was an astronaut.”

It was a little bit like that for Tex Simone.

Tex Simone (281x440)

He rose from humble beginnings to become a legendary figure in his beloved home town of Syracuse, NY. Because of his passion for baseball, Tex left a promising career in business to join the grounds crew of the minor league Syracuse Chiefs in 1961. When the athletic trainer suffered a heart attack in the middle of the season, he added those responsibilities despite having no formal training. In 1967 he became the team’s business manager and public relations director. In 1970 he was promoted to general manager and he ran the franchise for more than 40 years. In 2008, Tex was named to the International League Hall of Fame.

On a personal note, I owe Tex Simone and his son John my career. I was a 21-year-old senior at Syracuse University when the Simones gave me the opportunity to be a professional baseball broadcaster a month before graduation. In a business where getting your first job can be a daunting challenge, it was an incredible break and I will always be grateful.

Tex was a very kind man and a joy to work for, but he did call me into his office once to reprimand me.

It was a few games into my first season as the Chiefs’ radio voice. The team had played an afternoon home game on a bitterly cold April day in Syracuse (shocking, I know) and I described the brutal weather conditions in painstaking detail as if I were The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore.

The next day, Tex called me into his office and said, “It is never cold at the ballpark!”

“Excuse me?” I replied.

“I don’t ever want to hear you say that it’s cold at the ballpark,” he said. “You can tell folks to bring a jacket, wear a sweater, and pack their hat and gloves, but don’t say how lousy the weather is. We’ve got tickets to sell!”

It was a valuable lesson. He wasn’t telling me to be dishonest – just to remember that part of my job was to try to make a trip to the ballpark sound enjoyable. I have used that advice ever since.

For years I have also used Tex Simone as something of an “ace in the hole.” When I hosted the Cincinnati Reds pregame show on Fox Sports Ohio, I would often have to get pregame interviews with opposing players and coaches. Whenever I thought the person I was interviewing knew Tex, I would drop his name to break the ice and put the subject at ease. That led to great interviews with Bobby Cox, Bobby Valentine, Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green, and many others.

Tex Simone at park

Roughly 10 years after I called my last Chiefs game, I returned to Syracuse as the radio voice of the Pawtucket Red Sox. By then Tex was in declining health, but he always made an effort to trek up to the broadcast booth whenever I was in town to say hello and ask me about my family and career. I was thrilled that Pawtucket happened to be the opponent in August of 2008 when Tex was inducted into the I.L. Hall of Fame and I got to be there for the ceremony.

Tex Simone was a one-of-a-kind American success story who enriched the lives of all of us who were lucky to know him.

In the baseball world, he was an astronaut.

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6th Year Puts “Coach Witty” Back On Field

The UC Bearcats are likely to be the only team in college football next year with a former coach in the starting lineup.

Witty pick 6 (330x440)

When fifth-year senior cornerback Adrian Witty suffered a significant groin injury in the season opener last year, it appeared his career was over.

“I tore it up pretty bad,” said Witty. “I thought I was going to be able to come back, but things didn’t go the way I wanted.”

So to remain part of the team, Witty became an unofficial member of the coaching staff.

“He knows so much about football,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “He’s going to make a great coach if he ever wants to do that. Last year he ran some drills for us. I think he learned a lot from standing and watching guys, teaching them, telling them what to do, and watching film with them. He traveled with us, went to every game, and was like another set of eyes for us.”

As it turned out, Witty’s injury was not career-ending. He’s been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after suffering separate season-ending injuries in 2010 and 2014.

“He went from playing, to coaching for a year, and now he’s back to playing,” said Tuberville. “He’s seen all sides of it.”

“God blessed me with another season,” said Witty.

The speedy Floridian is Cincinnati’s most experienced defensive back, having played cornerback, safety, and nickel in 41 career games. Now he has the added knowledge from having spent a season on the coaching staff.

“He learned a lot being on the sidelines and being in the meeting rooms as a coach,” said co-defensive coordinator Steve Clinkscale. “To have him back is literally to have a coach on the field for me. He can definitely control his side of the field, get the calls in, and make adjustments. I love having him back and really appreciate his leadership. He’s going to do a great job for us.”

“It helped me see things from a coach’s view,” said Witty. “They consistently stressed the same things over and over. Now that I’m back on the field, I understand what they see.”

Witty tackle (440x330)

Adrian has been successful on and off the field at Cincinnati. He’s already earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and is working toward a master’s degree in health education.

“He was elected one of our team captains last week and it was an obvious choice,” said Tuberville.

“He’s a good mentor on and off the field,” said Clinkscale. “He does a great job in the classroom. You couldn’t ask for a better son, a better player, or a better person.”

“Being named a captain means a lot,” said Witty. “It means the guys believe in me and the coaches believe in me and I’m going to live up to that. I have no problem being a leader. I want guys to follow me and look up to me. That’s just who I am.”

And the former coach is looking forward to playing again.

“I love these guys,” said Witty. “When you’re on the field you want to play for each other, battle for each other, bleed for each other, and do whatever you have to do in order to win.”

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Sanders Has Earned Respect Of Teammates And Coaches

In numerous stories about the health issue that’s kept him off of the Bearcats bench this season, head coach Mick Cronin has singled out one player on the Cincinnati roster.

“This is about Jermaine Sanders – he’s our lone senior,” Coach Cronin told Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News.  “That’s the hardest part of this for me.  I’m really close to him.

“So not being able to coach him, it just sucks.  I don’t have a better adjective.”

Jermaine Sanders black jersey

Sanders saw that comment and others like it and appreciates Cronin’s thoughtfulness.

“I was proud that he felt that way,” Sanders told me.  “It’s kind of sad for me that he hasn’t been able to coach me for the final games of my senior year.  It was heartwarming to hear that from him.”

Jermaine Sanders came to Cincinnati as a high-scoring high school star, earning Player of the Year honors in New York City from the New York Post.  But as a Bearcat, he’s been a classic “glue guy” playing solid defense while being unselfish on offense.   

“The one thing that you know about Jermaine is that he’s going to do all of the little things that help you win,” said associate head coach Larry Davis.

“It was a hard adjustment at first,” said Sanders.  “Coming from high school where you’re depended on to score 20 to 30 points a night and then when you get here you try to score when you can but you’re counted on to do things defensively and stuff like that.  But everything happens for a reason and there’s nothing wrong with that.  I’m not ashamed to say that I was a glue guy while I was here.

“I always want to put other people before me – sometimes that may hurt me – but that’s just the way that I am.”

Jermaine Sanders (440x266)

Sanders is quiet by nature, but as the only remaining senior on the roster, he’s been thrust into a leadership role on an inexperienced team.

“Of all of the players on your team, the seniors are always the most determined guys because this is the last time they’re going to be playing in a Cincinnati uniform,” said Davis.

“I’ve taken it very seriously and tried to show the guys the way we need to play and the way we should act on and off the court,” said Sanders.  “I’ve tried to be a good example for the younger guys.”

One of those younger teammates is Shaq Thomas who thinks so highly of Sanders that he chose Jermaine to be his daughter’s godfather.

“He’s my best friend and we’ve been through a lot together,” said Thomas.  “I just want to see him do well.”

The same is true for Cronin.

“Jermaine Sanders is everything that’s good about college basketball,” Mick told me.  “He has been all about the program and he has been a selfless player.  And he’s such a good person that I want success for him so badly because of his loyalty to the program.  When he plays well I’m so happy.

“It’s his senior year and he’s always going to remember it.  I feel guilty that I’m not out there coaching him.”

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Four Key Offseason Additions For Bengals

After spending Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine, I am prepared to describe four key players that the Bengals anticipate adding to the roster next season.

  1. A sideline-to-sideline tackling machine at linebacker with a high football I.Q. Plays with an attitude. Prone to excessive penalties. Possible concussion concerns.
  2. A fluid receiver with the ability to stretch the field. Makes tough catches in the red zone. Ideal complement to pair with A.J. Green.
  3. An elite pass-catching tight end. Stands 6’6” with long arms. Has size to beat defensive backs and speed to beat linebackers. Must continue to improve as a blocker.
  4. A road-grading right tackle with surprisingly nimble feet. Must keep an eye on weight.

Those players are Vontaze Burfict, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert, and Andre Smith.

Bernard at combine (440x293)

Don’t get me wrong, Cincinnati will undoubtedly add an immediate contributor or two (maybe more) in this year’s draft.  The Bengals are on a run of six straight productive drafts as they’ve placed at least one player on the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team in every season.

2014: Jeremy Hill

2013: Giovani Bernard

2012: Kevin Zeitler

2011: A.J. Green

2010: Carlos Dunlap, Clint Stitser (not a stellar group of rookie kickers apparently)

2009: Quan Cosby (as a punt returner)

But regardless of who the Bengals add in the draft, it’s hard to imagine that any of the rookies will have a bigger immediate impact than the return of Burfict, Jones, Eifert, and Smith – assuming that they’re healthy.

Burfict is recovering from the most serious injury after having microfracture surgery on his left knee.  Marvin Lewis told reporters at the Combine that he expects the Pro Bowl linebacker to be back on the field this season.

“Vontaze is working his tail off in rehab and it’s an important offseason for the Cincinnati Bengals and Vontaze Burfict together,” Lewis said.  “He’s one of our dynamic players and he’s a dynamic leader.  We’re a better team with Vontaze on the field, so we hope to get him back full speed and healthy as quick as we can.  It’s important.  He knows the importance of it for us, for him, and for his career.”

Marvin at combine 2015 (440x294)

Coach Lewis added that Jones and Eifert are on good recovery timetables as they return from ankle and elbow injuries respectively.

“(Jones) is fine, healthy, and he’s ready to go,” said Lewis.  “He’s got a lot of prove.  It’s an exciting time for us.  He’s a young player with a lot of ability, a lot to prove, and a lot on the line.  I like guys with a lot on the line.

“Tyler’s development, if you are familiar with him, was a little bit retarded this year because he was injured nine plays into the season.  He’s doing well.  It’s important that we get Tyler back and productive in his third season for us.”

Adding Jones and Eifert to an offensive that includes Green, Hill, Bernard, and Mohamed Sanu would give Andy Dalton as many offensive weapons to distribute the ball to as nearly any quarterback in the NFL.

Two years ago with minimal injuries among running backs and receivers, Dalton set franchise records for single season passing yards (4,293) and touchdown passes (33).  However, he also threw a career-high 20 interceptions.  His INT total dropped to 17 last year, but his rate per attempt slightly increased.

“We’ve got to get Andy to continue to take care of the football all of the time,” said Coach Lewis.  “He doesn’t have to feel pressed.  We know the next down is coming.  The one area where we weren’t quite as good this year was protecting the football.  We have got to do a better job of that.  There were times where he became a little impatient and his patience has to continue to grow.

“To be a productive NFL quarterback, we want that interception number to be down.  That’s the most important thing.  There are going to be some interceptions that happen.  There are going to be some balls that go off hands that are tipped, and so forth.  But the ones that he is directly responsible for – we want to make sure that that number is almost non-existent.”

Over the last four seasons, the Bengals are 40-23-1 despite playing in one of the toughest divisions in football.  That’s the sixth-best record in the NFL during that period behind New England, Green Bay, Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle.  Despite their playoff failures, the Bengals roster is good enough to contend.

But it’s hard to overcome a rash of injuries that wipe out entire position groups as the Bengals had at times last year at wide receiver and linebacker.

“When you get a lot of injuries at one position, your depth is non-existent,” said Lewis.

That’s why the return of Burfict, Jones, Eifert, and Smith is so important.  It allows the Bengals not to draft for need but to continue their highly-successful approach – particularly in the early rounds – of taking the highest-rated player regardless of position.

“We want to upgrade the football team in general so there’s not one area,” said Lewis when asked about draft priorities.  “We have to upgrade every area.”

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With Rivalries Disappearing, Cherish The Crosstown Shootout

There has been a lot of realignment in college sports in recent years and it hasn’t been good for traditional rivalries.

My Alma mater – Syracuse – no longer plays Georgetown every year in basketball.

The Backyard Brawl between Pitt and West Virginia is no more.

The so-called Border War between Kansas and Missouri is history.

Closer to home, after 99 meetings in basketball, Cincinnati and Louisville don’t currently play each other.

After 160 meetings, Xavier and Dayton don’t square off.

The bottom line is, if your school still has a great rivalry – cherish it – and there is no rivalry quite like the Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout.

Crosstown Shootout logo

It is the best intra-city rivalry in college basketball.  Two outstanding schools – just 3 miles apart – that happen to have two of the best programs in the country.

Cincinnati is one of only 16 schools that have been to the NCAA Tournament each of the last 4 years.  In its history, UC has made 6 trips to the Final Four and won 2 NCAA titles.

Xavier is one of only 13 schools to go the NCAA Tourney in 8 of the last 9 years and the Musketeers have made 5 trips to the Sweet 16 in the last 11 seasons.

This rivalry has featured legendary players like Oscar Robertson, David West, Kenyon Martin, and Byron Larkin.

There have been last-second dramatic shots by unlikely heroes like Lenny Brown, Joe Stiffend, Jamal Walker, and Jihad Muhammed.

There has even been a million dollar half-court shot by a fan named Theo Nelson.  And who could forget his Vontaze Burfict-like tackle of the Blue Blob after the shot went in.

My first Shootout as a fan and broadcaster was “The Lenny Brown” game.  I was the color analyst for Fox 19 with Thom Brennaman on play-by-play.  And I still had hair.

Me and Thom Brennaman

Since 2000, I’ve had the privilege to broadcast the Crosstown Shootout every year on 700 WLW.  As the Voice of the Bearcats, it’s the only game where I dread the possibility of losing more than I enjoy the potential of winning.  That’s one of the things that makes this game so distinct.  If your team loses, you will come in contact with fans from the other team nearly every day until the two schools meet again.

When you think about it, the Crosstown Shootout is a lot like its sponsor.  If you didn’t grow up here, chili is a stew that comes in a bowl with ground beef and kidney beans.

But if you’re from Cincinnati, chili is a runny sauce served on spaghetti and topped with a giant helmet of cheddar cheese.

Skyline chili

The rest of the country can scoff, but we know that it’s delicious.

Similarly, the Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout is a once-a-year treat and it uniquely ours.  It’s a five-way with great players, legendary coaches, passionate fans, thrilling finishes, and high stakes.

As rivalries disappear, thank heavens The Shootout is alive and well.

Backcourt Brothers

Troy Caupain verbally committed to play college basketball at Cincinnati in early June before his senior year of high school.

Three days later, Kevin Johnson did the same thing.

The two future Bearcats read about each other after committing to UC, but didn’t cross paths until an unexpected meeting the following month.

“We met at an AAU tournament in Las Vegas,” said Caupain. “We played in a back gym – Team Loaded vs OBC (Ohio Basketball Club). It went to overtime and unfortunately, Kevin’s team beat us by like one point. Later on the trip, we were walking the strip and I saw his team at Chipotle and we both had on Cincinnati shirts. I was like, ‘That’s Kevin.’ And he was like, ‘That’s Troy.’ There was a bond from there.”

“Their friendship kind of started at that tournament in Vegas,” said UC associate head coach Larry Davis. “They made the effort to hook up with one another because they were both committed to Cincinnati.”

Caupain drive (297x440)

Caupain was born in Amityville, NY but attended high school near Richmond, VA. Johnson grew up in Cincinnati and introduced his future teammate to his hometown when they were still in high school.”

“I visited during spring break senior year and spent a week with him and we built a relationship,” said Caupain. “Ever since then, there’s been a bond that can’t be broken.”

“He’s my brother,” said Johnson. “I feel like I’ve known him for more than these two years of college. It seems like I’ve known him forever and that’s a good feeling man.”

“That wasn’t a surprise because of their families,” said head coach Mick Cronin. “They’re both educated and intelligent kids and they got to know each other before they even came to Cincinnati. I think they both have the character where they are rooting for the other guy. It’s important on a team to have somebody there to support you when you struggle. It’s easy for the kids when things are going well, but Troy and Kevin have really helped each other through any tough times that they’ve had to this point in their careers.”

Kevin Johnson dunk (243x440)

After coming off of the bench as freshman, the two roommates are starting backcourt mates as sophomores. Caupain leads the Bearcats in scoring (10.1) and assists (3.6), and Johnson is averaging 7.6 points since the start of conference play.

“It definitely helps to know that you have somebody by your side who believes in you,” said Johnson. “And we definitely have that chemistry – you kind of know what the other guy is going to do and that’s a great feeling on the court.”

“If you look at great guard tandems over the years, they had a second sense for knowing when the other guy was going to cut or what he was going to do,” said Coach Davis. “I think the more that they play together, the more they are going to develop that closeness.”

And it’s not only on offense. A major reason why Cincinnati is fifth in the nation in scoring defense (54.5 points) is the pressure Caupain and Johnson put on opposing guards at the top of UC’s matchup zone.

“You see it out front in our defense when Troy and Kevin are in there and they are playing as one,” said Coach Cronin. “The more they do that, the better we’ve gotten on defense. And I really believe over the last few weeks that it’s improved immensely.”

While their chemistry continues to grow on the court, the backcourt brothers could not be much closer off of it.

“We sit in our living room all the time after practice and talk about everything,” said Caupain. “Deshaun Morman is usually with us too – he lives across the hall but he’s like a roommate. We talk about the things you need to talk about with people that are really important to you.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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Wildcard Wednesdays With Tommy Tuberville

If the Dos Equis guy is the Most Interesting Man in the World, then UC head football coach Tommy Tuberville isn’t too far behind.

Tuberville in racing helmet (440x292)

Every weekday during the football season, I tape a radio report with Coach Tuberville that airs on 700 WLW and ESPN 1530. Most of the time we discuss the Bearcats and their upcoming opponents, but on “Wildcard Wednesday” we get away from football and delve into just about anything including:

TUB’S PAST

What did your father do for a living?

I’m a military brat. My dad was in the military all of his life. He actually died on active duty at age 53. He fought in World War II, earned a Purple Heart and five Bronze Stars. I’m passionate about this country and our military because a strong military keeps us free and gives us the opportunity to do things like play the great game of football and have a chance to have a great life. I’ve been overseas twice with other coaches to visit our troops at different military bases in the Middle East. We have the freedoms that we have today because of what our vets have done in the past, so I try to spend as much time with our military as I possibly can.

You’ve started the Tommy Tuberville Foundation with the goal of building homes for wounded veterans.

I’m very partial to our military men and women who fight for our country. A lot of them are the same age as the young men who play for me on this football team. Many come back missing arms, legs, or are burned. It’s really a sad situation. But we’ve started this foundation. We’re raising money, we had a golf tournament this year, and we’re going to spend $150,000 to $200,000 a year building a home for a veteran that can’t function in the home they have now. We’re trying to give them an opportunity to live a normal and functional life.

You are an avid hunter correct?

I grew up a country boy in Camden, Arkansas. Our nearest neighbor was about a mile away and I didn’t have a car to drive around in, so the only thing I had to do in my off-time was hunt and fish. When I was probably 10, 11, or 12 years old, my dad started taking me hunting and I’ve been hunting all of my life. I’m not an avid deer hunter anymore because that’s during football season, but I do like to quail hunt, pheasant hunt, and turkey hunt. Turkey hunting is one of my passions. It’s a hard sport, it’s time consuming, but it’s all in the spring. I like being outdoors and I guess you can call me an outdoorsman because when I’m not coaching, I play golf and I go outside and hunt and fish.

Let’s talk about your playing career for the Southern Arkansas Muleriders. What position did you play and were you any good?

“Kick ’em Mules kick ’em.” That was our battle cry. Everybody has a chant in the south, and that was the Muleriders’ cry. I grew up about 40 miles from Southern Arkansas University and I knew a couple of coaches on the staff so I went down there. I was a high school quarterback and they moved me to safety because I didn’t throw the ball well enough to play quarterback in college football. I didn’t play much until my junior year, and I played special teams, safety, and in the nickel. I was one of those coaches on the field that tried to get people lined up against the wishbone. I wasn’t a rolling ball of butcher’s knives, but I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot and that caused me to get into coaching. I didn’t know what I was going to do until I got to college. I thought I was going to get into business or sell fried chicken or something, but the coaches that I had at Southern Arkansas and a passion for learning made me want to get into coaching.

Tell us about your brief stint in the restaurant business.

I had a good friend of mine who started this catfish restaurant in Conway, Arkansas. The name of the river there was the Toad Suck Ferry and the restaurant was the Toadsuck Catfish Inn. So I decided one year that I was going to get into the restaurant business and opened Tubby’s Catfish in Tullahoma, Tennessee. The specialty on our platter was two catfish filets, two frogs legs, two chicken wings, and we had this drink called ‘pond water’ – it was actually a fruit drink. We called it ‘Tubby’s Pond Platter’ and that was the specialty of the restaurant. The restaurant actually did pretty well. It’s a very interesting business and I made a lot of friends and still get a lot of calls from people that went to my restaurant.

In between coaching at Auburn and Texas Tech, you worked for ESPN for a year. Did you enjoy it?

I really did because I was kind of burned out after 14 years in the SEC. ESPN called and I worked for ESPN and ESPNU. I didn’t want to broadcast games because I wanted to get back into coaching and didn’t want to make anybody mad. I traveled to Charlotte a couple of days a week and I traveled to Bristol, Connecticut to work in the studio and do “First Take” every Friday. Every Friday morning they wanted me to talk about the top games across the country so, for example, I had to look at what the Pac 10 was doing. In 14 years in the SEC I didn’t have a clue what they were doing out there. So I had to get up to speed on all of the teams across the country and look at tape. That was a good thing about ESPN. You could walk into the studio and put on tape of any game you wanted to pull up. I learned a lot, met a lot of good people, and enjoyed it, but I really enjoy the coaching profession more than I enjoy the studio work.

TUB’S FAMOUS FRIENDS:

Former President George W. Bush visited the Bearcats locker room before the win at SMU and it’s not the first time you’ve met him.

I actually had dinner with him a couple of times in Lubbock with former Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance. Kent actually ran against George W. Bush years and years ago for Congress and he’s the only one who’s ever beaten George for public office. They became friends so I had a chance to meet him there. Then when I went to the Middle East to visit our troops, we stopped in Washington and I saw him in the Oval Office. I had the chance to meet Ronald Reagan at the White House when we won a National Championship at Miami, along with George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. So I’ve met a few presidents over the years and that’s a thrill. But I was really excited for our players this year. They had their cameras out five minutes before kickoff while he was speaking to them and our guys will have a moment that they’ll always remember.

Tell about your friendship with former University of Miami and Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson.

I got to know Jimmy in the late 70’s when he was the head coach at Oklahoma State. My boss at Arkansas State was Larry Lacewell and they were best friends. We’d go trade thoughts on offense and defense, and when he became the head coach at the University of Miami, he asked me to come down and help them with their defense. So I’ve been friends with him ever since and I’m very fortunate that he gave me that break because we obviously had very good football teams back them. He’s kind of an unusual guy. He loves football and obviously knows a lot about it, but he’s an outdoorsman and he loves fishing. He’s got a boat that he calls “Three Rings” for his National Championship ring and two Super Bowl rings. He lives right outside of Islamorada, Florida which is down in the Keys. He works for Fox Sports so he has to fly a lot on the weekends, but every morning if he’s home he’s going to be fishing, cleaning fish, or cooking fish. That’s what he loves to do. He’s goes without a shirt most of the time, wears a swimsuit, and just loves the water.

Tell me about your friendship with The Rock?

He’s an amazing story. We recruited Dwayne Johnson out of Pennsylvania and he was one of those clean-cut good looking kids. He looked the part, but he wasn’t real aggressive. He worked his way up and played quite a bit, but all the guys knew – his grandfather and his dad were wrestlers and he kind of grew up in that mold and always lifted weights and looked good. I wasn’t surprised that he got in to wrestling, but I was really surprised at how big he got. He became as big a name in wrestling for years there as anybody. Of course, now he’s turned into an actor and a very good actor. I’m proud to have known him and watched him grow up, but it’s very unusual for a guy to go from college football and not play pro football and then have the stature that he has as an actor.

When the team was in Memphis, you had dinner the night before the game with an old buddy who, according to Forbes Magazine last year, was the 243rd richest person in the world.

Fred Smith, owner of FedEx and the guy that started it from scratch. What a guy he is. He’s a great story and a guy that has a lot of intelligence – obviously. He loves college football and both of his sons played. Arthur played at North Carolina and his son Cannon graduated from the University of Memphis, played safety, and actually went through an NFL camp but didn’t quite make the team because of an injury. Fred Smith loves football – he’s part owner of the Washington Redskins. He’s obviously done well in life and I tell you, that business he runs has more than three hundred thousand employees. That’s a huge, huge responsibility and something that pushes our economy – not only in this country but all over the world. So I’m really proud to call him my friend. We talk all of the time and he really does love athletics and football.

Is it true that when you were the head coach at Ole Miss that you used to have dinner with best-selling author John Grisham?

John is about the same age as I am and his wife and my wife had a lot in common. John is from Oxford, Mississippi and actually taught a law class on campus. We would have dinner every once in a while and he was an interesting guy to talk to. He wrote at night and is one of the most popular authors of all time. He has sold more books than just about anybody, but you would never know it. He would walk around with a beard and was just happy-go-lucky. The first book that he wrote he couldn’t give away. It was A Time To Kill which is actually one of his better ones and he went around to different places in the state of Mississippi and tried to sell it in bookstores and sold a few. Then he came out with The Firm and he said when he sold that one he went back and re-published A Time To Kill and it just went berserk and sold millions of copies. He’s an interesting guy. He’s since moved to Virginia so that he could write. He said that he has too many friends in Oxford and he couldn’t write because too many people came over. He’s an interesting guy and I really enjoyed his friendship.

I want to know about your friendship with one of my all-time favorite broadcasters – “Uncle Verne” Vern Lundquist.

I go way back with Verne. I got to know him when he was an announcer for the Dallas Cowboys years ago. More recently, he’s been the voice of the SEC Game of the Week on CBS and did a lot of our games when I was in that conference. I had an opportunity to go to Steamboat Springs a few times over the last 15 years to snow ski and he lives there. He loves to ski and he’s just a great guy. I’ve actually sat with him near the 16th green in his little cubicle at Augusta National during The Masters. We’ve been good friends for a long time. I really enjoy his company. He has a lot of history and I just sit back and listen to him talk about all of the athletes and coaches he’s been around.

When the San Francisco Giants won Game 7 of the World Series this year, the starting pitcher was a former neighbor of yours.

Tim Hudson. He played for the Auburn Tigers and he’s a good guy. When he graduated, I think he ended up going to Oakland at the beginning of his career. He won the Cy Young Award and then got traded to the Atlanta Braves which was a life-long dream. While he was in Atlanta, his family moved to Auburn – which is an hour from Atlanta – and he built a home just down the street from me. A very big home. His kids all went to school where my kids went to school. Tim’s a good guy. He doesn’t look like an overwhelming pitcher, but he can throw some heat and make the ball spin. He’s a good friend and I’m eager to see what he can do over the next few years. I think he’s got a little left.

TUB’S BUCKET LIST

I know that you’ve played Augusta National on a few occasions. What’s your best score?

I’ve never broken 80. I’ve been pretty close to it – probably 81 or 82. The course is wide open – it’s not like some of these courses where you have to hit an iron off the tee to keep it in the fairway. The biggest challenges are the undulation in the fairways where you never have a flat lie and then the slick greens. If you just hit the ball on the green, there will probably be several times where your caddy will say, ‘You’ve hit the green but there’s no way you can get it in the hole from there in four putts.’ I’ve actually five-putted. The first time I played there, I hit a good drive on the first hole and my caddy said, ‘Whatever you do Coach, keep it below the pin. Don’t hit this shot above the pin.’ Well I hit what I thought was a good shot, but it was a little bit thin and rolled about 15 feet past the hole. My caddy kind of grunted and shook his head. I got up to the green and I had a 15 foot downhill putt and he said, ‘You’re going to end up in the sand trap.’ I just barely touched the ball and it rolled right into the trap.

You had a hole in one last summer. Tell me the details?

That was my second one. I love golf because you get to do it outside, get to meet people, and you learn a lot about them. You get to talk about a lot of different subjects, although most of the time people I play with want to talk about football. I made this hole in one on the second hole at Coldstream. I was playing with some boosters that had actually bought a round of golf with me at an auction so they were Bearcats fans. We played the first hole and none of us played it very well and then after the second hole we all certainly had something to talk about. Hopefully I can play enough golf over the years to make two or three more hole-in-ones.

On this segment over the last two years, we’ve discussed many of the interesting people you’ve met and things you’ve had the opportunity to do. What’s still on the Tommy Tuberville bucket list?

I want to take my kids over to Normandy. My dad was in the first wave that landed on Omaha Beach to liberate France. My dad signed up for the Army when he was 16. He lied about his age, quit high school, and when he was 17-and-a-half, he was fighting in the middle of a World War. He landed in a tank, and fortunately was one of the few early ones that made it to shore and made a difference. I want to see that one day and hopefully I can do that with my family in the future.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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